A career in Civil Services is a dream of many people. It offers respect, prestige and many other perks and benefits which can satisfy your personal and professional life.
However, the road to success is filled with hard work and challenges as you have to undergo a highly competitive and one of the toughest exams- UPSC Civil Services Exam. In case you have decided to prepare for this exam, here are some tips to ensure that your preparation goes smoothly.
1. Find out your ‘why’
It’s going to be a long journey so you need to find motivation from within. Motivational videos, books and articles can motivate you for a shorter period of time but for sustaining yourself mentally throughout all the three stages of this exam, you need to find the reason deep within yourself as to why you want to go for it. So, take 2-3 days, introspect and find the reasons why you want to pursue a career in civil service.
2. Fear and feeling of inadequacy are common
OK, first things first. As you begin your preparation, there will be many a time when the sheer competition or simply the number of seats will make you nervous and doubtful of your success. While this is common among almost all the aspirants, paying too much heed to these thoughts will lead to negativity. There’s a saying, “you can’t win in life if you are losing in your mind”. So, believe in yourself and have faith that you will succeed.
3. Memorize the syllabus
Knowing the syllabus in and out is an integral part of your preparation. It will help you in knowing what to read and what to skip, especially when you are reading current affairs. Some aspirants are of the view that you need to study everything under the sun to crack this exam. It is nothing but a myth. The exam demands one to understand the syllabus and requirements of this exam. Aspirants need to understand what to read and what to skip. For example, let’s say there’s an article on Artificial Intelligence in the newspapers, now you, as a smart aspirant, need to connect the dots and understand that this is important for exam purpose as recent developments in science and technology is a part of the syllabus. The best you can do is to take a printout of the syllabus and paste it on your wall. Don’t forget to look at it often!
4. Choose your optional paper wisely
Your optional paper should be an amalgamation of three things- your interest in that subject, average marks scored in that subject by candidates, and easy availability of study materials of that subject. Before choosing an optional subject, it is recommended to read a few basic books of that subject to see if you would be able to cope up with it.
5. Newspapers are indispensable
Reading newspapers is something you should not miss a majority of the questions are current affairs based. Going along with popular opinion, The Hindu and The Indian Express emerge as the most preferred newspaper and it is suggested by many previous year successful candidates. While initially, it may take time to grasp the content but with daily habit, you’ll be able to see changes in yourself. It will also help you to structure your thoughts. Now, not all news is important for UPSC CSE. That’s why it is recommended to know the syllabus very well (remember point 3?).
6. Don’t be a mere “collector of resources”
Some aspirants have a tendency to collect thousands of study materials. This way they feel satisfied that they are preparing. But in reality, they are just making their preparation complicated. Truth is they are not going to open even 80% of those materials because of the time crunch. So, follow few sources and revise it multiple times. This will also give you a feeling of satisfaction and doing a revision before exams will get easier.
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7. Watch topper’s interview but make your own strategy
While it is good to take some tips and inputs from toppers but following their strategy from A to Z might be a grave mistake. You are unique. You have your own strengths and weaknesses. So, your strategy should be your own and not copied from someone else. Self- introspection is an important key during preparation. Analyze where you are good at and where improvement is required.
8. Practice writing on a daily basis
If you are not doing writing practice for mains, your preparation is incomplete. Don’t wait for prelims to get over. Start writing now. Initially, you may find some difficulty in generating content for the answer, but slowly and steadily you will get the hang of it. There are various websites offering daily writing practice. Starting early will prove to be a huge advantage for you as, by the time mains approaches, you would already be comfortable with writing essays and answers.
9. The importance of taking mock tests
Your preparation is incomplete without mock tests. Make sure to take enough mock tests before the exam and analyze it well. Learn where you are making mistakes, note it down and go through it frequently. Whatever you study, you can learn to implement it properly by giving mocks. Choose only those test series where you get quality questions of exam level. The mock tests should focus on the latest pattern of questions asked and should be a mix of both static knowledge and current affairs section
10. Quality over quantity
How many hours should I study per day to get selected? Sounds like a clichéd question, isn’t it? No matter how many hours you study, if your concentration and focus during that time is nil, you will not be benefitted. So, focus more on quality of hours rather than quantity. Even if you are putting 3 hours, make sure that those 3 hours are distraction-free and your focus is at your level best. Take small breaks in between your study sessions.
11. Don’t underestimate CSAT
Every year, there are aspirants who are unable to clear the CSAT paper. Even though it is qualifying in nature, remember that if you score high in GS paper but unable to qualify CSAT paper, then the battle is already lost. So, give CSAT paper the respect it deserves and doesn’t forget to do enough practice before the exam.
12. Don’t underestimate compulsory language paper
Again a common mistake aspirants make is to completely ignore the Indian languages paper. It is essential to practice this paper in order to ensure that you attempt sufficient number of questions to qualify it. Don’t take this paper lightly. To test the waters, try attempting previous year question papers. If you are having trouble in translation and essay writing, you definitely need improvement.
13. Keep calm and revise
Don’t keep the work of revision in the last. If you have read a lot, but unable to remember anything in the exam due to lack of revision then it is of no use. Take out time every day from your schedule and revise the topics you have read the previous day. This exercise will help to ensure that you are retaining useful information.
14. Beat the stress
Since you are preparing for a grueling exam, it is natural to feel stressed but it can affect your preparation to a large extent. That’s why it is recommended to take out some time from your daily routine to do the things you like. Don’t put a full stop to your hobbies and interests as they will help you in relieving the stress. Go for a walk, listen to some music or simply meditate. Whatever you do, don’t forget to relax a bit.
15. Role of a mentor
There is no denying the fact that you need some form of guidance and support in every part of your life. The same holds true for UPSC CSE. A beginner who is not aware of paper pattern and syllabus might feel lost and scared while seeing the huge syllabus. A Google search on UPSC CSE brings thousand of results which make the aspirants even more confusing. To simplify the process, coaching can be of great help as the faculties are knowledgeable and experienced and they are aware of the latest pattern of the paper. Now, there are many coaching centers and an aspirant again might get confused which one to join. You can make your choice by gauging whether you are comfortable with online or offline mode, asking for some demo lectures, sample study materials, etc. There are well-established coaching centre with good reputation but new institutes are fast catching up with affordable fees, good faculties and less batch size. After evaluating all the pros and cons, go for the one which suits you the most.
16. Patience is the biggest virtue
A very important fact to note is that cracking any competitive exam requires a little patience. The one who persists and perseveres despite failures and setbacks will go a long way. Learning from failures is an important part and every failure, if analyzed properly, will lead to success one day.
With the competition getting high every year, the best time to start preparation is NOW! While the journey will not be so easy, it will definitely be very rewarding. Civil services offer great opportunities for youth to contribute to the development of the nation. Hard work, dedication and focus are important elements and the candidate who works religiously will succeed. So, go ahead and take that first leap of faith towards your dream today. After all, in the wise words of Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”